Keep on running

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I thought there were parallels between long distance running and education. Education can be seen in the same category as a marathon in that both require planning, dedication and commitment.
I had cause to think about this metaphor last week when following a training run on Sunday morning I found myself rushed into A&E. I’m sure you want the detail of that sentence, which I’ll provide, but you might be wondering how this links to the themes of this blog – teaching and learning.
It occurs to me that students very often run into unexpected difficulties. Those difficulties might be life events, or losing motivation, or just struggling with some part of a course. It’s always struck me as self-obvious that how we react to set-backs can determine whether we eventually reach our goals or not.
So, what happened to me? On Saturday after a long time of trying I had broken through the 26 minute barrier on the Cardiff Parkrun. To be honest I had managed this previously but after straining my ankle ligaments my times had hovered between 26 and 27 minutes, and I was starting to think would never improve. So, on Saturday I was delighted. If you want an analogy I can well remember the desire to achieve those elusive A grades as a student. Most students seem to regard a 2:1 as a kind of Holy Grail these days and strive to achieve that and are, naturally, delighted to do so. And, conversely not quite so pleased with a 2:2 grade.
Feeling great after Saturday I set out on Sunday morning with my partner (running and life partner) to have a leisurely 8 mile run. This was half-marathon training and was focussed on distance rather than speed. Once again, the run had gone well. We returned home and as I sat down to put some ice on a sore knee, I was suddenly struck blind. Literally, my World went pitch black. This was frightening and a bit disorientating. The blindness passed quickly, but now my heart rate increased and I was sweating profusely. I decided at this point that I should get some air and stepped outside the front door.
I quickly realised that I was not improving and my partner called an ambulance. They were on the scene very quickly and once in the back of the ambulance they told me I was suffering from supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
By the time I arrived in hospital my heart rate was 160 bpm, and to say I was feeling poorly is to use an under-statement. Now, I am and have always been a supporter of the NHS. Having said that my relationship with the medical profession has always been to keep them as far away from me as possible. But, whatever else we can be proud of in Britain, the NHS is still the ‘jewel in our crown’.
The doctors and nurses who took care of me were brilliant. And, after hyperventilating, my heart rate returned to normal. Thank you NHS!
Naively, I expected them to send me on my way with a warning to ‘take it easy’, but this was a heart problem and that was simply not going to happen. I soon found myself on a cardiac ward, surrounded by people who seemed to be genuinely ill, and hooked up to a monitor. Gradually it dawned on me I was going nowhere fast. A succession of nurses and doctors visited me taking blood, checking my blood pressure, scanning my heart and generally working hard to establish what was wrong with me.
Thankfully, the condition known as antrioventricular nodal reentry tachycardia was established. Whilst not life threatening ( and you can imagine my joy at hearing that), it is likely to re-occur (and, you can imagine my dismay at hearing that!) if untreated. So, it will be treated with what I am told is minor surgery, probably in the next couple of months or so.
This episode occurred when I was, ironically, feeling fitter than I had for a while, and gave me pause to think how it is often when things appear to be going well that some crisis, minor or otherwise, pops up to remind us of the dangers of tempting fate. I think this is particularly insightful when I think about the complicated lives that many students have.
You don’t have to end up hooked to a heart monitor for the rug to be pulled from beneath your feet. A poor grade, an illness, a major life event can all feel like that metaphorical kick in the teeth. Whilst I was being prodded and tested I was not sure how serious things were and I spent some time considering my options. Would I be able to run again? Would I be able to complete all my current projects? How would ‘urgent’ stuff at work get sorted in my absence? Mentally, I went through the options: if A then B, but if C then D. But one thing I was clear on was that I would make no decisions until I had as much information at my fingertips as it was possible to get. I was also clear that whatever was coming my way I was going to remain positive.
I appreciate that being positive in the face of adversity is not always possible, but if something does happen that interrupts studies sorting out your options before making a decision is. Many of the things that seem devastating to students at the time turn out to be hiccups in the long scheme of things. As I was surrounded by professionals who wanted to restore me to full working order, so students are surrounded by professionals (lecturers, advisors etc.) who want to see them succeed.
I’ve taken a couple of weeks off ‘serious’ running to get over this incident, and students likewise have the option to extend a deadline or defer their studies. Athletes are used to having minor injuries, and occasionally serious ones, we keep on running regardless. Students too must expect to have minor setbacks and, my advice, keep on studying regardless.

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